Tunisian coast guard trying to intercept migrants at sea off the coast off Sfax on 27 April 2023. Image: Reuters

Contradictions of Europe’s Migration Policy


How much money does Europe invest in migration? Where does the money go? Who administers the money? Who are the main implementers of the projects? Are there any mechanisms able to control and trace the money flow? And most important of all, are these programs in line with European and international Law, and the respect of human rights?

These are some of the main questions that arise when looking at the European external funds for migration. Since the ‘migration crisis’ of 2015, more than 6 billion euros have been given to Turkey to assess migration problems, and around 5 billion euros[1] were invested through the European Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, in 26 different African countries, to finance programs able to tackle ‘the root causes of migration’. These two are just some of the diverse funds developed by Europe to ‘solve’ the migration problem. The huge amount of money invested in these programs indicates how much Europe gives weight to the migration issue.

Indeed, in the last years, the phenomenon of externalizing migration policy has risen consistently. This approach is based on reducing the arrivals of migrants to Europe by reinforcing border protection and securitization rather than establishing legal pathways and safe routes for migrants. Through investing money into third countries: both countries of departure, as Libya and Turkey, and transit, such as Niger and Nigeria, Europe is shifting its responsibility to countries facing autocratic leadership, such as Erdogan in Turkey or Saied in Tunisia, or civil conflicts, as it is the case in Libya. These had come with severe concerns regarding violations of European law and values and hard costs for migrants’ lives and rights.

Almost 8 years after the ‘migration crisis’ began, the migration problem is still threatened as an emergency issue, leading to diverse structural controversies. Funding initiatives often lack transparency, coherence accountability, and proper risk assessment of human rights violations. In political discourse, migration is frequently used for political gain, without making long-term decisions to effectively address internal policies.

I. The Main Fund for Migration in Africa

To trace the whole money spent on migration by Europe and its Member States in the last years appears to be very difficult, if not impossible[2]. This derives from the fact that there is no unique and transparent migration budget at the European level, but diverse ongoing programmes. One of the most important between them is the European Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF for Africa), introduced in 2015, which projects should last until the end of 2024. The main goal of the Fund is to “tackle the root causes of migration”. 

As of the end of December 2022, an estimated 5,061.7 billion euros were committed to 248 different projects in 26 different African Countries. [3]

The projects are located in three different areas of interest (see the graph below): the North of Africa (NoA) region (red), the Sahel and Lake Chad (SLC) region (yellow), and the Horn of Africa (HoA) region (blue).

When looking at the map, it becomes clear the significant role played by Tunisia and Libya (on the Central Mediterranean Route) as the closest countries to Italy and major departure countries, and by Niger as the primary transit country for migrants arriving from sub-Saharan Africa and trying to reach Europe.

This explains the great interest Europe has in financing projects in these countries and, currently, in trying to reach a deal with Tunisia. Libya is the largest recipient of the EUTF for Africa – 51% of the whole funds for the NoA region, for a total of 465 million euros, have been allocated there since the beginning of the project. Niger had profited the most under the Emergency Trust Fund in its area, with a total of 299.7 million euros[4] (around 15% of the total funds allocated in the SLC region).

II. The Contradictions

When looking at the legal structure of the EUTFA, diverse inherent contradictions arise from both its overall framework and its specific applications in the partner countries.

Who administrates the money and decides on the projects?

The Exclusion of the Parliament

These contradictions regard firstly the governance structure. The European Parliament is completely excluded from all the funding decisions and supervision rules.[5] The only European institution that participates in the operating and strategic committee of the EUTFA, where projects are approved and decided, is the European Commission. Along with the Member States and the external donors of the funds, the Commission decides on the budget, the programs, and their implementing actors. This is particularly controversial, as the Parliament has a primary role in supervising the EU Budget spending of the European Commission and is the only legislative and democratic organ.

As stated by the European Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies (2021, p. 148), this appears as a…

“highly politically sensitive domain, without a proper justification of its necessity, which upsets transparency, good administration, and the principle of institutional balance within the EU legal order”

The Marginalization of African Partners

The situation worsens after realizing the complete marginalization of the African countries. Indeed, the African partners are downgraded to superficial observers[6] without having any opportunity to vote and decide on the funding allocation and project execution (as is the case for other programs, such as the European Development Fund programs). The projects are often designed in a ‘take it or leave it’ approach, which appears to be a

“pretext for preventing departure or tightening borders between countries while ignoring the factors that drive people from their homes.” 

European Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies (2021, p. 148)

This can lead to the fact that African countries are almost obligated to accept projects that conflict with their civil society’s interest, in the hope of getting money from external donors. Most of these countries are indeed poor countries whose economies heavily depend on external aid. This was the case in Niger, which was almost forced in exchange for getting European Funds to implement a law (Law 36, 2015) that limited the movement of people entering and crossing the country. This conflicted with the Free Movement Protocol of the Economic Community of West African States, which it was part of – and led to diplomatic frictions, strongly harming the economy of northern Niger. However, the current situation in Niger has changed since the military coup in July 2023.

The following approach not only appears unjust and as a form of neo-colonialist power but turns out to be highly problematic, as the African Partners know better their own countries and are more able to understand which projects can work in practice and which projects do not, resulting therefore in highly inefficient and ineffective programs.

III: Human Rights, Implementation and Reporting of EUTF

Who spends the money?

Another problematic issue worth mentioning is the one regarding the implementing actors (who spend the money on the projects).

As illustrated in the figure, most funds (31.3%) are administrated by the Member States and other donors. This often leads the MS to favor their interest in the regions instead of the African countries. Indeed, through the flexibility provided by the EUTF for Africa, the Member States can decide where to invest and how much, which often transforms this funding instrument into an opportunity for the European countries to hold their power on a particular territory, such as France in Niger or Italy in Libya.

Only 10.7% of the whole money is used on projects implemented by African partners, leading to the second issue: for the majority, the African local associations and governors are cut out of the project’s implementation. As a result, implementing agencies are often unaware of the country’s situation, and many projects lack ad hoc analysis of the actual condition.

What is the money spent on?

The figure below outlines the main strategic objectives (SO) pursued through the various projects. Most money is spent on managing migration and financing governance and conflict prevention projects. These programs may initially appear to be development and conflict prevention projects but are primarily focused on enhancing border security, implementing ID systems, and financing the return and reintegration of migrants who are often left alone after being brought back to their country of origin or other “safe” nations, without being properly checked over their right to asylum and non-refoulement.

Misuse of the Funds

Most of these projects rely heavily on financing from the European Development Funds (EDF), which legally obligates the funded programs to prioritize development goals and, ultimately, reduce poverty.

However, most of the governance and migration programs financed through the EUTFA contradict this long-term development goal, such as the financing of checkpoints in the Sahara Desert, the creation of the Joint Investigation Team (ECT) in Niger, and the Integrated Border and Migration Management (IBM) program in Libya, financing the Libyan Coast Guards.

These programs finance surveillance systems and military training of African police or ad hoc gendarmerie by European Police and lead to an endangering of the migration routes through the Sahara as migrants are often abandoned in the desert or forced to pass in parts lacking water oases to avoid the risk of being caught by African Police.

They are a striking example of development aid misused to fund border security and equipment, raising legal questions, as it is found to be in clear violation of European primary and secondary law. This seriously harms the “democratic principle within the EU’s constitutional order”. Many[7] have accused the Commission of misappropriation of Development Funds for rapidly reducing irregular migration.

Moreover, the EUTF for Africa is placed outside the EU Budget, even if financed through it. This circumvents the formal requirements normally needed for approving the projects, the process more “flexible, but lacking focus” on fundamental procedures that defend the effectiveness and efficiency of the funding instrument itself. Indeed, through this procedural system, no reflection on the local needs of the African Country is made, nor any pre-analysis of the actual situation. Most project decisions and implementations are taken in Brussels without civil society and local involvement.

Human Rights Violations

According to various NGOs operating in the country, such as UNHCR, OXFAM, and CONCORD EU, the project’s objectives seem to prioritize short-term results over the long-term development needs of African nations. The majority of the funds are allocated to countries on the Central Mediterranean Route, such as Libya and Niger, and invested in programs that enhance border protection and security. The financing of surveillance projects using development funds, particularly in politically unstable countries like Niger, raises concerns about human rights violations. This was denounced by the European Ombudsman, which has recognized that the European Commission failed to take the necessary measures to ensure the protection of human rights before supporting African Countries in developing surveillance instruments. Indeed, these systems allow the police and government forces to collect a considerable amount of data and to trace people’s movements, which makes the devices a dangerous tool if used against journalists, political opposition, and human rights defenders.

Eight years after the EUTF for Africa was founded, no money was invested in creating safe routes and legal pathways. On the contrary, diverse projects were launched that criminalized movements within and between countries that had lived from these for ages. 

Additionally, significant concerns have been raised, especially in the case of countries like Libya, which have faced criticism for their human rights violations and mistreatment of refugees. These concerns revolve around the trade-off between the imperative of safeguarding human rights and offering protection to refugees on the one hand and the aim of reinforcing border security on the other.

Substantial questions have also emerged regarding the EU’s and its member states’ complicity or responsibility in financing programs that inevitably contribute to human rights abuses.

Monitoring Shortcomings & Transparency Issue

Another critical issue regards the insufficient monitoring system established by the European Commission. Even if a monitoring and evaluation mechanism operates at three different levels. De facto, no external monitoring, except for the one financed by the European Commission, is provided. The Parliament’s oversight capabilities are entirely absent, contrasting its role in overseeing other programs. Nevertheless, for effective and efficient supervision, monitoring must be provided externally and independently (especially economically).

Additionally, at the level of the single projects analysis, the mechanism is deemed insufficient, as no data is available on the achieved results. For the monitoring of the regional projects, the progress is solely measured through quantitative indicators, as people voluntarily returned and assisted or the amount of IT equipment provided. No indication of the quality of the program’s results is shared, which makes a rigorous assessment of efficiency and effectiveness challenging to obtain, particularly regarding migration programs.

Lastly, a notable concern is the absence of a proactive Risk Assessment prior to program approval to ensure compliance with human rights, encompassing asylum access and non-refoulement.

IV: To Conclude…

As illustrated above, the contradictions appear to be structural and a deliberate choice of the European Commission and Member States. The evidence shows a clear intent in not providing transparency and an adequate data and monitoring system to assess the respect of human rights in compliance with EU law and international charts. Additionally, the funds were found to violate the constitutional order, as the European Parliament is excluded from them. The choice to marginalize the African countries in the decision-making and implementation processes is an evident sign of exercising neo-colonialistic power and prioritizing their own goals over the African countries. The focus remains, once again, solely on migration containment and border control without protecting, promoting, and safeguarding the respect of fundamental human rights.

This article is based on: Kahler, C. (2023) The Contradictions of the European External Migration Policy: Evidence from an Analysis of the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTFA) in Niger and Libya. Thesis (BSc), WU Vienna University of Economics and Business

[1] For more details check the official website of the European Trust Fund for Africa

[2] Three journalists of the Correspondent have tried to trace the money for Nigeria, read the article

[3] European Commission 2022 Annual Report: EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa

[4] EUTF Monitoring and Learning System SLC, 2022

[5] Want to know more? Have a look at the following Reports: The EU Approach on Migration in the Mediterranean and the EU External Migration Policy and the Protection of Human Rights

[6] For more details: Money against Migration, The Eu Emergency Trust Fund for Africa

[7] Diverse questions were raised by the Directorate-General for Internal Policies (European Parliament): The EU Approach on Migration in the Mediterranean and by the Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union (European Parliament): EU External Migration Policy and the Protection of Human Rights,  by different NGOs among which CONCORD EU and OXFAM

Chiara Kahler

Chiara Kahler is a currently student of Law, at the University of Roma Tre. She has previously completed her bachelor’s degree in economics and Socio-Economics with honors at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) and is passionate about migration issues, human rights, and international political economy.

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